Ghost Sign Stories: Photographer Frank Jump Is Haunted By New York’s ‘Fading Ads’

Pomeroy Ad on Livingston Street in Brooklyn selling, among other things, artificial legs. (Courtesy Frank Jump).

The Observer: You said at the lecture that most of the photos that made it into your book were taken in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Do you still take pictures of fading ads?

Frank Jump: Yes, but now I’m digital. Up until 2006 I took slides; I have hundreds and hundreds of boxes of slides, this huge archive that’s not going to go away. I’m trying my best to be vigilant and store things on as many different mediums as possible, because digital archives are a lot more ephemeral than physical archives. There’s this level of decay that’s happening with all of our files. I remember, back in the 80s, I used to record on digital tapes. At the time I thought this will be the highest quality, most enduring format. A few years ago I tried listening to them and the integrity has just deteriorated completely, there are whole parts  of the recording that are missing. It has all disappeared into zeros and ones.

The Observer: In some ways it’s like the signs. No matter how much we try to hold onto and preserve things they still fade and crumble and decay.

Frank Jump: That’s why I’m such a fan of ’78s. [Laughs.]

The Observer: How do you do your research on the signs?

Frank Jump: I get a lot of tips from readers. There’s it’s a network that exists of urban archaeologists and we all share these resources. It’s very different than when I started. I would have to call up these old companies and ask for information. Infact, I developed a pretty good relationship with Reckitt’s Blue [a laundry whitener that was produced starting in 1852 using a combination of synthetic ultramarine and sodium bicarbonate].

The Observer: You said that taking photos of these ads from the best angle has often meant scrambling on rooftops, train tracks and other places that you weren’t supposed to be. You told a story at the lecture about climbing tracks to get a shot and getting yelled at by the train conductor who wouldn’t drive past while you were on the tracks. Did you ever end up getting arrested?

Frank Jump: I never had a run-in with the law. I guess I just lucked out. Even now, post 9/11, everyone wants to share their stories; I find that people are very generous with their stories. Wherever I go, I’m always afforded the opportunity to go on people’s roofs, inside their apartments. They’ll move stuff out of the way for me, hold my feet as I lean out the window. Except I have a lot of trouble in Brighton Beach.

The Observer: What are you working on now?

Frank Jump: A movie [Mr. Jump is trying to assemble about a half hour of footage]. I want to write another book about Fading Ads in the form of a mystery novel… I could also see doing a book of something totally different. I like taking portraits… there will be so many opportunities to come. My autobiography will be fun. When I was 17 I used to escort disco divas like Grace Jones. I was the pretty boy on their arm. It was the 70s. It was New York.

Mr. Jump will give two Fading Ads tours as part of Open House New York this weekend. The first, in Chelsea, will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 6. On Sunday, he will give a tour in Tribeca, also at 11 a.m. For more information visit

Ghost Sign Stories: Photographer Frank Jump Is Haunted By New York’s ‘Fading Ads’